Lord Adonis writes to Ofcom boss urging action plan to tackle mobile service disparity across the country

Rebecca Smith
The NIC says large parts of the country remain without reliable mobile coverage
The NIC says large parts of the country remain without reliable mobile coverage (Source: Getty)

The chair of the National Infrastructure Commission has written to the head of Ofcom for "urgent and radical action" to tackle the disparity in mobile services across the country.

Lord Adonis said legal and regulatory changes should be considered, after figures revealed large parts of the country may not be getting the most basic services expected.

He is pressing for "concerted action" between the regulator and the government, saying all options should be put on the table to improve mobile phone coverage between now and the next mobile spectrum being auctioned.

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A new definition of good mobile coverage published by Ofcom with its Connection Nations report last week showed that geographic landmass coverage, which enables users to make an uninterrupted phone call for 90 seconds, could be as much as 10 percentage points lower than previously published under old measurements.

Network operators are expected to deliver coverage to 90 per cent of the country, but the fresh figures indicate it could be 80 per cent that is actually achieved in practice. Lord Adonis said as a result, whole areas could be suffering far poorer mobile services than had been previously thought.

He said:

In an age when access to a mobile signal is regarded as a must-have, it is deplorable that even in areas previously considered to have strong coverage, operators are still delivering such poor services that customers can struggle to make a quick phone call.

Writing to Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, Lord Adonis said he welcomed the work Ofcom had undertaken over the past year to develop a new approach for defining mobile coverage based on consumers' everyday experience

But the NIC chair said the new measure of coverage "demonstrates the need for urgent and radical action to tackle this issue immediately".

“That’s why I want Ofcom as the industry’s regulator to urgently take concerted action with government to tackle this situation," he added. "They should put all possible options on the table – including legal and regulatory changes - to ensure customers can be confident they are will get the service they deserve and pay for.”

The findings also showed that total 4G coverage, where reception is available from all four mobile operators, is available across under half of the UK's landmass, and for calls and text messaging, 30 per cent of the UK's geography does not receive a signal from all four operators.

Ofcom's chief technology officer Steve Unger said:

We completely agree that mobile coverage must urgently improve, which will take concerted action from industry, government and the regulator.

We’re playing our part by enforcing rules for better coverage, and preparing to set new rules in operators’ licences. We’re also boosting the capacity of mobile networks by releasing new airwaves, and helping to improve coverage on trains.

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